W. should have paid attention to daddy
Iraq never attacked Israel, nor did it unleash chemical and biological weapons against invading forces. Al-Qaida didn't expand its anti-U.S. terrorism.
But a lot of the other fears that preceded the U.S. invasion of Iraq three years ago have come true: increased anti-American feeling in the Arab world; a drain on the U.S. Treasury and on the nation's military; distraction from pressing the anti-terrorism effort against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda; and a civil war that confirmed Iraq was easier to invade than to leave.
In addition, the path toward democracy in the region has been far more difficult, both in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.
As a result, the American public increasingly sees President Bush's decision to invade Iraq not as the signal success for which he had hoped, but as a mistake that threatens to mar forever his place in history.
Ironically, the most accurate forecast of what has unfolded in Iraq came from two men to whom the president probably should have paid greater heed: his father, former President George Bush, and Brent Scowcroft, the elder Bush's close friend and former national security adviser.
Elder Bush's decision
Only they know what, if anything, the elder Bush told his son on the eve of the war. But we know what he and Scowcroft wrote in a 1998 article and book defending their conduct of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, especially the decision not to invade Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein.
"While we hoped that popular revolt or coup would topple Saddam, neither the U.S. nor the countries of the region wished to see the breakup of the Iraqi state," they wrote. "We were concerned about the long-term balance of power at the head of the Gulf.
"Trying to eliminate Saddam, extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guidelines about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in mission creep, and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs."
Some of those comments, to be sure, stemmed from the way that the first President Bush had mobilized an international coalition to oust Hussein from Kuwait. But their underlying concerns about the region proved to be true.
As they noted, in their most prescient comments: "Had we gone the invasion route, the U.S. could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different -- and perhaps barren -- outcome."
More than four years later, as President George W. Bush prepared to invade Iraq, Scowcroft issued a similar warning that proved mostly true.
In an op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal, he warned that a military campaign against Mr. Hussein, while certain to succeed, "would be very expensive -- with serious consequences for the U.S. and global economy -- and could well be bloody," including his unleashing of "whatever weapons of mass destruction he possesses."
As it turned out, the Iraqi president possessed none, and the initial military campaign was quick and minimally costly. But as Scowcroft forecast, "A military campaign would have to be followed by a large-scale, long-term military occupation" and "is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism."
"Possibly the most dire consequences would be the effect in the region," he wrote. "The shared view in the region is that Iraq is principally an obsession of the U.S. The obsession of the region, however, is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"There would be an explosion of outrage against us. We would be seen as ignoring a key interest of the Muslim world in order to satisfy what is seen to be a narrow American interest."
Three years later, the likelihood of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is more remote than when Bush entered office. Democratic elections produced a hard-line Palestinian government in place of a more moderate one.
In Iraq, meanwhile, elected officials bicker over how to divide power, while civil war intensifies at the very time that domestic political pressures are forcing the impending withdrawals of Western forces, both British and American.
Six weeks after the March 2003 invasion, Bush proclaimed that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended ... the United States and our allies have prevailed." Nearly three years later, that happy day seems even further away than it did then.
Carl Leubsdorf is Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.